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Why Israel must invest in the MMH

קרן ברל כצנלסון

What is the problem with Haredi education in Israel?

The Haredi education system in Israel is enormously behind the general education system in almost every aspect: From the scope and level of core curriculum studies, the teaching and pedagogical methods and the level of training of teaches and principals, through the treatment of integration and special education students, the structures, physical conditions and safety, to the pay and working conditions of teaching staff.

Unlike the rest of Israel’s children, whose right to education is realized directly by the state, Haredi children study at privately owned educational institutions with almost no state oversight. Thus, they are doomed not only to receive low-quality education that does not prepare them for modern life, but also suffer from discrimination in admission and registration for kindergartens and schools due to religious, sectorial, and class reasons.

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How did we get here?

In 1953 Israel passed the Public Education Law. The law abolished the political education streams, which held sway until then, and in their place founded a public and official (“mamlachti”) education system, with common goals and curricular contents, while allowing for secular and religious public education. But the Haredi education system remained outside the state’s control.

The vast majority of the Haredi education system is not part of the official public education system, but is privately owned by Haredi education networks affiliated with the Haredi parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – and other non-profit organizations connected to the Haredi establishment. They receive only partial oversight from the Education Ministry, and don’t always meet even the minimal standards to which they are obligated.

What is the solution to Haredi education in Israel?

In fact, the solution has existed for a decade and is called the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Public (Mamlachti) Education, or MMH for short. It includes public and official kindergartens and elementary schools  (up to the 8th grade,) owned and operated by the Education Ministry and municipalities, intended for Haredi boys and girls. A decade after its establishment, the Mamlachti-Haredi education system is meeting the goals it set for itself: It is dealing with the severe problems of Haredi education, and allows its graduates optimal integration into Israel’s economy. The problem of discrimination in admissions does not exist there, and its institutions are disconnected from political parties, the same as the rest of the Mamlachti education system, which allows the parents freedom in making decisions pertaining to their family and lifestyle.

How many Haredim study at the MMH, and from which communities?

There are currently over 17,000 students in the MMH, constituting some four percent of all Haredi students from age 3 to the 8th grade. There is a claim prevalent in the Haredi community that the MMH is fit only for “modern” Haredim – but contrary to this claim, in reality its institutions educate children from across the Haredi community: Conservatives, mainstream, and modern; Litvaks, Sephardim and Hasidim. Haredim born to the community and those who embraced religion later in life.

If the MMH has existed for ten years, how come it has so few students?

Veto

Since its inception, the MMH has encountered a series of obstacles that greatly hinder the opening of a new MMH school, or the conversion of an existing school to the MMH system, requiring communities who want it to launch a long and persistent struggle, which is not always successful. Most of these obstacles stem from the resistance of the Haredi establishment – the parties and leading rabbis – who prevent its development. The parties apply political pressure at the municipal level against the opening of MMH schools, and hold up legislation on the national level. The leading rabbis oppose the MMH, which influences many parents; and to this day, the status of the MMH has not been regulated in legislation, in a manner that will compel the state and municipalities to provide it to those interested in it.

And perhaps the Haredi community in Israel is simply not interested in public education, and prefers to remain with its existing institutions?

According to our data, the existing MMH schools have no trouble filling their classrooms. At most schools the trend is rather the opposite: Admissions increase from year to year, with more 1st grade classes opened to meet demand. Demand for the MMH exceeds supply, and some children are rejected by the municipalities, and sent to study at non-public Haredi schools, due to lack of space at existing schools, or the refusal of the state and municipal authorities to open new schools in areas not yet served by the MMH. In fact, as a result, there is a growing phenomenon of Haredi families moving to cities with MMH schools, so that they can send their children to them. Polls conducted among the Haredi community show significant potential for joining it – including among the most conservative communities.

Two polls conducted by Dr. Nechumi Yaffe reinforce the picture we presented as to the growing support and demand among the Haredi public for the MMH.

Two polls conducted by Dr. Yafa Nachumi reinforce the picture we presented as to the growing support and demand among the Haredi public for the MMH.

Why aren’t the Haredi parties interested in promoting the MMH?

The private Haredi education system has become the main power base of the Haredi establishment, including the parties, and naturally they don’t want to lose it. The education system helps perpetuate the control of the Haredi establishment over the Haredi public, and also serves as a revenue source for administrators of education networks and organizations. For this reason, Shas and the United Torah Judaism, more then any other entity in Israel, are the most hostile players toward the MMH and its development.

Are there other solutions for core curriculum studies? How do they differ from the MMH?

Under the law, boys’ schools run by the Haredi education networks are obligated to teach core curriculum studies, and in return they receive full funding from the government. But in practice, many of the schools do so in a very partial manner at best. As long as there is no enforcement and oversight of the teaching of core curriculum subjects at Haredi institutions, the result is that they will do as they please.

Over the years, the modern Haredi population has opened a few boys’ schools that teach core curriculum subjects. But even they lag greatly in teaching quality behind the public education system. In any event, all other solutions, seeking to introduce core curriculum studies into the existing private system, leave the Haredi education system connected to the Haredi establishment and politics, and dependent upon them, and these solutions do not provide a full pedagogical response, equal in quality to the public education system.

How do we turn the MMH into the largest education stream in the Haredi society?

The government must reach a long-term resolution turning the MMH into the default option for Haredi education from age 3 to the 8th grade. To this end, it needs to pass a five-year governmental plan for the MMH, to undo and deal with the existing barriers, in order to turn the MMH into the main way the state provides Haredim with their right to education in the kindergarten and elementary school ages. The main steps of this plan should be:

Public-Haredi (MMH) Education Law

Enshrine in law the right of Haredi children to receive MMH education, in a manner compelling the municipalities and the state to provide it to any Haredi child who wants it, through an amendment to the Public Education Law so as to include a definition of the MMH, and equalize its status to that of the public (mamlachti) and public-religious (mamlachti-dati) streams.

Pro-active steps by the municipalities:

Shift the responsibility for the opening of MMH kindergartens and schools from the paretns to the state. This through adding the MMH to the registration websites for kindergartens and schools in every municipality, and opening kindergartens and schools by initiative of the Education Ministry and the municipality in every place with a concentration of Haredi population.

ביטול הקלת היתר על החינוך החרדי בבעלות פרטית

Toughen the recognition processes for private Haredi schools, and prevent the opening of privately owned schools in cases where this would negatively impact the registration of students to the MMH.

תוספת כוח אדם שיטפל בחינוך הממלכתי-חרדי

Add human resources at the Education Ministry to handle the opening of new MMH institutions

תוספת תקציב לבינוי ותיעדוף זמני של הממ"ח בתחום בינוי מוסדות חינוך

Add budgets for construction, and temporarily prioritize the MMH in regard to the construction of educational facilities.

A comprehensive and robust training program for teachers.

Massive training of teachers through grants.

להיפטר מהתיוג של הממ"ח כמיועד לחרדים 'מודרניים' בלבד

Fight the branding of the MMH as intended only for “modern” Haredim by presenting and marketing it as an education system for all Haredim. Hold direct discourse between the Education Ministry and the rabbis, and establishing an accompanying rabbinical forum for the MMH.

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